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#Ramaphosa’s ‘Farmgate’ Scandal: Lessons from South Africa

By Martins Oloja
04 December 2022   |   4:39 am
I hope that our people, notably our leaders and the elite are following political developments in South Africa where institutions of governance in a democracy are deepening democracy at the moment.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a speech at the leaders summit of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of the same name, on November 8, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

I hope that our people, notably our leaders and the elite are following political developments in South Africa where institutions of governance in a democracy are deepening democracy at the moment. I would like our people who have been asking questions about survival of democracy in Nigeria to follow developments around the President of South Africa who may face impeachment charges soon. The President of South Africa, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa has been investigated by the parliament and even the ruling party, ANC has been insisting on following the constitution on a report that may have been unfavourable to their leader. It is important for us in Nigeria to see what accountability in public office is all about. The South African president is clearly in trouble for what can be considered minor infractions in Nigeria.   

On September 20, 2008, former President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki gave the world one instructive lesson about the nature and power of democratic institutions in South Africa when he resigned at the request of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

Mbeki then proved to the world that his country is not only the most economically developed in Africa, but that it has also the most resilient political system in the continent. His mentor and former principal, Nelson Mandela first, gave the hint of the nature of the then emerging political system in that country when he refused to seek re-election in 1999. Mbeki’s resignation too reinforced the resilience, sophistication and positivism of the South African political system in a manner that has enhanced economic development in South Africa. 

The New Lesson:
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been under mounting pressure since an inquiry found evidence that he may have committed serious misconduct in relation to a large amount of cash stolen from his game farm.

Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing. But the inquiry’s findings, and questions over how the cash got there, could not have come at a worse time for the president, who ousted his predecessor Jacob Zuma on a promise to fix rampaging corruption in South Africa. 

Before the findings came out on Wednesday last week, he was the clear favourite to lead the African National Congress (ANC) into elections in 2024 and secure a second full presidential term. But with less than a month to go before the party chooses its next candidate, he is battling for political survival.

Origin Of Trouble
Everything changed for Ramaphosa when South Africa’s former spy chief, Arthur Fraser, walked into a police station in June and accused him of money laundering, corruption and covering up a large theft of cash. In a sworn statement, Fraser said thieves had raided Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in February 2020, found at least $4 million in foreign cash hidden in furniture, and made off with the money. Police opened a criminal investigation into the case after Fraser’s statement, which raised questions about how Ramaphosa had acquired so much cash and whether he declared it. The media dubbed it the “farmgate” scandal.

Ramaphosa said there had been a break-in and that a much smaller amount of cash – proceeds from the sale of game – had gone. He denied covering up the crime, saying he was away when it happened and that he reported it when he got the details. Fraser’s sworn statement, which included security video footage and photos, said the gang got in via a perimeter fence, ransacked then house and spent some of their haul on new vehicles. The affair has been a huge embarrassment for Ramaphosa, a successful investor and businessman who has repeatedly spoken about taking a tough line on graft.

In July this year, Ramaphosa faced down a rival faction from his own party who were trying to scrap a rule that anyone charged with corruption or other crimes must step down while they are being investigated. He also promised in October to tackle graft with tougher procurement rules and better oversight of state-owned firms, after an inquiry highlighted high-level graft under Jacob Zuma, who was
ousted too on corruption charges. 

The Inquiry
On the back of Fraser’s affidavit, a small parliamentary opposition party, the African Transformation Movement (ATM), lodged a motion in parliament asking to institute a so-called Section 89 inquiry into Ramaphosa’s fitness to stand office. Used for the first time since being adopted by parliament in 2018, the Section 89 inquiry sets out a process to impeach a sitting president of South Africa, if evidence emerges of wrongdoing. The panel’s recommendations, which are not binding on lawmakers, are the first step in a lengthy process that could eventually lead to Ramaphosa’s impeachment.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa’s ruling ANC NEC has been meeting to plot way forward amid damning report against their President. The nation is waiting anxiously as the ANC contemplates its next move following the damning Phala Phala report that has plunged the presidency into crisis and uncertainty. The ANC is expected to make its position known anytime soon amid widespread anger and calls for President Ramaphosa to resign.

Opposition parties have charged that Ramaphosa has shamed the office of the presidency and so he is unfit to govern, and are calling for snap elections.

A Section 89 panel released a damning report to the National Assembly on Wednesday concluding that President Cyril Ramaphosa has a case to answer for and may have violated the constitution. It is this that has led opposition parties to call for impeachment, with the DA pushing for snap elections. The Section 89 panel, chaired by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, concluded that the president may have committed serious misconduct by exposing himself to a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business.  

Eventually, the National Assembly is expected to vote on whether the president should be subject to an impeachment inquiry. But the President isn’t accusing any opposition element’s legwork for his trouble. He is engaging institutions of democracy to challenge the report, as there is no room for citing immunity clause in South Africa’s constitution. 

Some analysts are claiming inside South Africa that it may be in the long-term interest and sustainability of the country’s constitutional democracy, well beyond the Ramaphosa Presidency that such a report is challenged. It is also interesting that Ramaphosa, once a big man in MTN, faced a tough weekend, with some in the ANC’s national executive committee members baying for his blood. 

Lessons For Nigeria
IT is important for our political leaders who are generally believed to have demonised democracy by bastardising its institutions and governance agencies to note that strong and prominent party men and women cannot deepen democracy unless they make governance institutions work. It can be seen from the political developments in South Africa that two institutions, one law enforcement (the police service) and the other, law making (the legislature) must be made to work for democracy to deliver dividends to the citizens. It can also be seen from the South African examples that you don’t require any anti-corruption agencies to institute accountability and transparency mechanisms for a system to work. For any democracy to work, the political party system too must be really self-governing and accountable. The ANC can ask a president to resign as they did to Mbeki and Zuma when the grand old party discovered that improprieties in the office of the president could damage their electoral chances. No institution can question our corrupt leaders at all levels in Nigeria. 

In Nigeria, our Nigeria, where are the political parties that will nurture internal democracy that will prevent courts from nullifying the outcomes of their primary elections and even conventions? In Nigeria, when are we going to have a strong and reliable police service (federal or state) that will serve institutions to maintain law and order even as they enforce rules of engagement? When can we in Nigeria have National and State Assemblies that will make investigative reports from the media to be subjects of inquiries that will lead to impeachments and removal and even prosecution of corrupt public and private officers? When will Nigerians demand removal of immunity clauses from our constitution? So, this is a time to study the working and workability of the institutions that have made South Africa the most significant country in South Africa. Before you ask me why I have claimed this consider again the following fact file: South Africa is a member of G-20 biggest economies in the world, Nigeria isn’t a member. South Africa is a member of the emerging markets’ big club called BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Nigeria isn’t a member. The almighty Multi-Choice with its powerful DStv, is located in South Africa, their South Africa. You know what it rakes into South Africa from Nigeria. I hope we still remember that the MTN is one of the most valuable telecom firms in Africa. It is undoubtedly Africa’s largest mobile network. It has spread its tentacles beyond Africa.

It is in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, a part of Dubai, etc. The company’s international Head Office isn’t in Nigeria. It is in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shoprite is a South African brand — providing communities in 15 countries in Africa with food and household items in a first-world shopping environment at the Group’s lowest price possible. What is more, in most of the global ratings of tertiary institutions of learning in Africa, at least the best seven will always come from South Africa with the University of Cape Town always leading the pack. So, there is a link between quality education in South Africa and their development. There is therefore a sense in which we can claim that strong and working institutions are responsible for the difference that South Africa has made in Africa. They are what they are because they have a National Assembly that can investigate allegations of corruptions against their president and leaders at all levels. In South Africa, they have political parties that have ideologies and clear manifestos.

They have in South Africa a police service that can help the law enforcement and justice system to investigate corrupt practices anywhere. And so in South Africa, you can’t temper with public funds anyhow without consequences. After seven and half years in office, our president is just accusing governors of stealing local government funds. What can the police, national and state assemblies do with such allegations? When shall we have institutions that can deliver public goods to Nigerians in a democracy? Shall we ever have a country like South Africa where the law rules all men and women?

 

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